Wednesday, October 20

Augustine Confessions Book III

Again, if you are just joining in this exercise of reading the Confession then, please start here and here, Then this post and finally here, will bring you up to date and set the stage for this exercise.

In our Companion we are guided through this Book 3 by Todd Breyfogle who hails from Denver where he is Director of the University Honors Program at the U. of Denver. Also, apparently, he spent time at my alma mater, the U of Chicago, albeit in Humanities as opposed to Physics. His dissertation was on the intellect and will of St. Augustine in a political context.

Alas, Mr Breyfogle has a different take on the structure of the Confessions. Last book, our expert witness led us to believe that we would be marching orderly through three sins (from 1 John 2:16) and then unwinding them after Augustine encounters Ambrose. However, Breyfogle has a different take on the book. He tells us that in book 1 we encountered the infantile desires, book 2 led us too our need for the love of fellows. In book 3 Augustine comes to see that (quoting Mr Breyfogle):
.. The body's desire for bodies and the soul's desire for friendship as increasingly elevated species of a higher desire for the truth of the intelligible world. Physical needs and fellowship culminate in philosophical desire; the several misplacements of philosophical desire described in Book Three set the stage for subsequent books.

In fact, unlike Mr Cavadini who had felt Book 7 was resolved in book 7, Mr Breyfogle holds the resolution to Book 8. That certainly raises the level of interest. Mr Breyfogle claims that Book 3 will set up three questions which will set the stage for subsequent books. These questions are not small ones. From where does evil come? What is the nature of God's existence? What is the relation of change to permanence? These questions will be answered over the course of Books 3-9 and depend of the theological accounts contained in Books 10-13. In Book 3 we will also "draw together the three lusts alluded to by Mr Cavadini (pride, curiosity, and pleasure).
Without further ado, Mr Breyfogle then gives a guide to the chapters which make up Book 3. Largely quoted from him here as follows:
  • Truth does not lie in physical satisfaction (ch. 1)
  • in fiction or aesthetics (ch 2)
  • or in a sense of self-satisfaction (ch 3)
  • Augustine does discover (from Cicero (ch 4) the mode and object of philosophical truth.
  • He rejects scripture as vulgar (ch 5) (Note: the Augustine is referring to the initial Greek New Testament, and recall he disliked Greek. Also, I know Greek not at all but I've heard the Greek of the New Testament unlike the Hebrew of much of the Old, is not poetry but very pedestrian in it's language).
  • and his insights into permanence are shared by the Manichees' religious and philosophical doctrines (ch 6 & 7).
  • Where the Manichees' fail (ch 8-10) is how variations in the world can be underpinned by a God which is fixed and unchanging.
  • Monica's dream (ch 11) is a flight of imagination with orgins in truth (?)
  • The promise of Augustine's' eventual conversion is predicted (ch 12) and the Book ends.
Well there is a lot of meat on those branches. I'll cherry pick and examine chapter 4 and 12 in more depth.

Chapter 4: Cicero's Hortentius is the work, "whose language (but not his heart) almost everyone admires" (quoting Augustine). Continuing, "It gave me different values and priorities.... I longed for the immortality of wisdom with an incredible ardor of the heart." His older self realizes that he is seeking for the right thing but is on the wrong path. He quotes St. Paul, "See that none deceives you by philosophy and vain seduction following human tradition...".

Chapter 12:
We find that Monica (Augustine's mother) has shunned him, because he has fallen away from faith. She has a dream which informs her that this is uncharitable. She also dreams of his eventual conversion. Augustine at this time does not accept this, his resistance is not "intellectual but a deliberate resistance to the movement of the divine", Mr Breyfogle informs us. Monica's bishop, himself a former Manichee, tells Monica that Augustine must learn for himself when the time is right.